Articles in my Digital Age

This morning I got a chance to do one of my favorite things, browse at a bookstore and buy some new magazines. Ever since I got into the masters in computer science program it’s hard not to think of everything I do and how I could experience it digitally. For me, the experience of a magazine consists of 3 parts; finding, reading, and processing.

The first part is finding the magazine or article. In this case I judged completely based on covers, I bought Under the Radar because Yeasayer (my favorite band of the past 5 years or so) was on the cover, the cover also mentioned an interview with the beloved Aubrey Plaza. I also bought Good Magazine because it is their Migration issue, and I am interested in contemporary Geography, I love Good mag (I used to subscribe), and I hadn’t read it in a while. I also read that they recently let go of their editorial staff and I suspect the magazine might be really crappy for a while.

We live in the digital age, so I know that some of this content is available online but how would I go about finding it? Most people enter the internet through google; I googled Yeasayer and got some articles from the usual suspects, SPIN and pitchfork, announcing their new album and tour dates. Google-ing geography and migration is similarly useless. None of these things would have led me to these interesting articles. I read most of my news and content from my googlereader feed, which does give some suggestions based on what I’ve read and the things that I have liked. But it didn’t suggest these articles and I’m not sure how it could have.

In terms of reading, the experience on paper, on computer and iPad I find remarkably similar in most respects. I do find it convenient to be able to look up words, concepts and references. If I’m reading an article on paper I like to have my ipod touch nearby for references, otherwise I won’t look them up (and I won’t get smarter). If I’m reading on a computer it’s easier to look things up, but it’s also easier to get distracted and stop reading the article.

For me, the most exciting articles I read are able to identify sociological trends before I do. I see myself in them, and I see myself as a part of a whole; a great articles helps me feel unique, but also points out the overarching themes of our time. Once I’ve finished the article, what do I do about it?

I might like the article enough to share it with someone, with the paper article I can mention it to someone and tell them to buy it, I can let them borrow it, or I can tell them about it*. The easiest way to do this is to find the article online and email the link to someone or share it on facebook or twitter. I might want to clip out the images from the article and put them on my wall (pinterest is a digital version of this process). As Nick Hornby says “It’s what you like not what you are like.” Interest magazines are one way of creating a community of like-minded people. As magazines fade, sharing things with people helps us to create online communities based on mutual interest rather than physical proximity. This is one of the questions I want to explore in computer science, as globalization increases, and the physical borders between countries begin to wear away, the virtual connections between cultures become more and more important. How do we model these connections? How do we maintain our traditions, our individuality, but also share new ideas and maintain respect and diversity? How is our experience of culture changing?

*I was reminded, recently of a story I heard about the Gettysburg Address. Since the speech was made before voice recording devices, and no one had a pen and paper handy, we know the words from Lincoln’s own notes and from what people wrote down after they got home. It is impressive that 3 different people were able to write down such a long speech and there were few discrepancies, but it makes me wonder about how we process and record information these days. We don’t teach people to remember things in that way anymore, nor do I think we should. But how do we cut through the noise? How do we know if someone’s voice is important when everyone is being recorded?

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